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Children's book on stone walls based on years of research
September 7, 1998

Geologist Robert Thorson, an expert on New England stone walls, has turned the findings of years of academic research into a book for children.

The book, Stone Wall Secrets, by Thorson, a professor of geology and geophysics, and his wife Kristine, was published in July 1998. It is illustrated with watercolors by Gustav Moore.

Thorson, whose research has garnered sponsorship from the Earthwatch foundation and national coverage in The New York Times, says he wanted to make his work accessible to a young audience.

"I wrote Stone Wall Secrets," says Thorson, "because of my commitment to earth science education. It is important to educate children before it is too late, before potential careers are ruined or decided, and before kids are turned off by science. And I wrote it partly because all kids like rocks."

Through the story of a young boy, Adam, and his grandfather, the book explains to children how the stone walls of New England were formed and how these same stone walls can teach people a lot about their environment.

Thorson says his research shows that when colonial farmers and land-owners encountered large numbers of rocks on their land, due to changes in the soil initiated by deforestation, they stockpiled them into walls to free up space on their land, mark boundaries and, in combination with wooden rails, fence in wayward livestock.

Along with the story of the formation of the walls, Thorson's book also shows how stone walls contain rocks that provide clues about the formation of mountains. Grooves in rocks may offer evidence of glaciers forging through New England during the Ice Age; these rocks can also reveal when different Native American cultures existed and how they lived, as an old campfire rock does in this story. Stone walls can even reveal the story of the origin of the world.

With the children's book comes a more detailed account of geology that gives teachers a better understanding of what the book is telling their students. A separate book, Stone Wall Secrets Teacher's Guide: Exploring Geology in the Classroom, is written by geologist Ruth Deike to National Science Education Standards. The teacher's guide answers more of the questions that children in a classroom might have after reading Thorson's book.

Kristine Thorson, who studied aging at the University of Washington, hopes the book will teach children about more than just stone walls. "The grandfather is intelligent," she says. "This was very important to me." She wants children to learn from Adam's grandfather that older people do have a lot of wisdom.

As international adoptive parents, the Thorsons also wanted to show a good relationship between Grampa and his adopted grandson, Adam, who is depicted as a different ethnicity in each image.

Kristine Thorson recently completed an internship with the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt., a private school dedicated to social justice and peace through intercultural understanding. She is currently teaching English to international students with the UCAELI program on campus. She has taught high school part-time and has worked in a variety of human service agencies, including work with child welfare, mental health counseling, and aging.

Robert Thorson is an expert in geology and archaeology. He is an expert on the seismic activity of southern New England. He has also taken part in the excavations of wooly mammoths and prehistoric man, and has done research in New England, Alaska, where he taught at the University of Alaska, and has recently received a Fulbright scholarship to go to Chile.

Zubair Khan