Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express was created to take readers on a rhyming journey to promote better mental health and embrace Atypical (neurodiverse) socialization and inclusion needs. It also provides tips to avoid areas of the Internet leading to isolation or danger and contains 19 handcrafted brilliant paper illustrations. Selected for presentation at the 2021 Literacy & Language Summer Institute: National Council of Teachers of English. Available at tinyurl.com/mentalhealthtrainbook. Lessons including an interactive crossword visit https://ethanbean.org/lesson-plans. Written by Emily Lane Waszak & Erik Bean, Ed.D. Illustrations by Gail Gorske.
Waszak and Bean’s nonjudgmental approach is laudable, but they may confuse readers by juxtaposing many different experiences with different origins that need to be differently addressed. Putting signs of ADHD and cyclothymia side by side with a boy’s anger over being teased or the sadness of an ostracized wheelchair user can inadvertently imply that those are all serious psychiatric issues, passing moods, or social problems with social solutions. Adults with little knowledge of psychology may struggle to articulate the nuances to children they read to, and children reading on their own could reach some incorrect conclusions.
Gorske’s marvelous collages are the highlight of the book, illustrating each concept with wonderfully evocative portraits that show diverse ethnicities, settings, and feelings. The children’s body language is clear and evocative, from the lowered brows of an insecure athlete to the wild hair and eyes of a child caught in an uncontrollable urge to act out. The rhyming text can feel stilted and the rhythm isn’t always sharp, but the fluidity of the artwork carries the day. This book is best suited to teachers looking to start classroom conversations about the different ways people think and feel.
Takeaway: This beautifully illustrated picture book about troubling thoughts, feelings, moods, and urges will help teachers start conversations about supporting friends through mental and emotional challenges.
Great for fans of Elizabeth Swados’s My Depression, Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B
"What a wonderfully poignant book for a time in which those who are truly most vulnerable could benefit so greatly. The simplicity of the story's moral, plus the catchiness of the rhyming message is the perfecttandem for teaching our youth that it's O.K. to sometimes be scared oract differently, but still never give up hope for what the future may ultimately bring."
-- Michigan State Senator Michael MacDonald, MBA, DHA
"Ethan's Healthy Mind Express is a great mental health primer for elementary school children. It introduces the concepts of social support, seeking help from others with confronting challenging thoughts and feelings, and avoiding pitfalls such as internet sites which provide incorrect or malicious information. Ethan's Healthy Mind Express will help teachers, parents, family and friends start the conversation with children who may be struggling, helping them to stay 'on track.'"
-- Ryan Rominger, Ph.D., LCPC-PIT
By Sue Weston
Last fall a unique children’s book, Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express, was published and targeting atypicals in the newly labeled Alpha Generation, ages 5 to 10 as “A Children’s First Mental Health Primer,” according to the book’s subtitle. In a little over 90 days it received endorsements by psychologists, a neurologist, and even one state senator. Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express, helps children and parents understand the deep resonating messages of inclusion, bolstering self-esteem and community support. It warns about the dark web and social media pitfalls that can lead to isolation for all kids, which is especially important with social distancing due to the COVID-19 crisis.
In 40 pages of catchy rhymes and 19 brilliant hand-cut colorful mesmerizing paper illustrations, the book addresses topics such as coping with challenging emotions, being nice to those who may appear different, and seeking support from teachers, counselors, parents and others preferably face-to-face (after quarantining ends) or face-to-face over a phone or the Internet where people are trusted and known. It also has a section on internet safety, including the dangers of the dark web. Children do not always make it known they struggle to learn and/or socialize. In this excerpt that lesson is clear:
“Evan needs help to learn
No matter how hard he tries
his brain works differently
than most other guys.
He wants to know everything
the teacher has to say,
but it’s hard to pay attention
in class every day.”
The story starts with seven children: Rena, Evan, Leah, Jesse, Hannah, Josh and Max, with different but relevant social challenges who board Engine 403, a whimsical express train that barrels through colorful communal influential spheres that influence us all, such as: family, faith, school, the community, and the media. During the ride, several overarching social types receive some behavioral remedies and prudent advice. Just before its last stop, a call for all community support, a little discussed lesson that can harm children reminds all of us that the virtual world has dangers:
“We have now come
to a bump in the track.
It’s called the dark web,
but we cannot turn back.
Do not seek advice
even if they act like they care.
They still are strangers
so always beware.”
The text is in green because that is the color of mental health. And on May 7th a celebration about children and their mental health is the mantra of the annual National Children’s Mental Health Day.
The story by Emily Lane Waszak and Erik Bean as illustrated by Gail Gorske was published by the Ethan Bean Mental Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit public charity dedicated to removing societal stigma and improving acceptance and support for those with mental health issues. The Michigan based foundation is hopeful the lessons of the book will be a mainstay in education for years to come. “Elementary school curriculum developers can benefit by including the book in their lineup of socialization skills,” says Sherry Wexler, educational coordinator at the non-profit. “Atypicals are the fastest growing population among elementary school children.” Wexler said, “Atypical or not, Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express is designed to help all children, parents, and the community be more aware of the challenging socialization issues especially unique to the Alpha Generation.”
This book was made possible with partial funding by Temple Shir Shalom of West Bloomfield, Michigan and printed by FCI Digital, of Carrollton, OH. Proceeds from the book will be used to sponsor other educational initiatives. Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express is available for under $10 and can be immediately downloadable on Amazon ebook as well as a portable paperback version (ISBN: 978-0-692-03655-6) and a hardcover version (ISBN 978-1-7344744-0-4).
After losing Ethan to suicide, his parents co-author “Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express.”
Photos courtesy of the Bean Family
When Erik Bean’s 17-year-old son, Ethan, died by suicide, he was enveloped by a dark shroud of grief and guilt.
For years, Bean and his wife, Stacey, who lived in Farmington Hills, had tried to help Ethan, who struggled with behavioral issues due to mental health disorders that included autism, psychosis and ADHD. Finally, no longer able to bear his ongoing pain, Ethan ended his life on Aug. 24, 2018.
“As a parent, you feel like a failure,” Bean said. “You think about all the things you could have done.”
After attending a program sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the couple and their daughter, Blair, began participating in a local support group for families who had lost a loved one to suicide. There, Bean met other survivors who had found that giving back to their communities helped ease their grief.
Bean was receptive when Emily Waszak, a local author with whom he had previously collaborated on two classroom curriculum books, proposed they co-author a children’s book on mental health.
Bean had spent most of his career in higher education as a professor, researcher, curriculum designer and textbook author. Acknowledging there was a shortage of mental health curriculum geared toward young children, he agreed to take part in the project. Bean and Waszak enlisted longtime family friend Sherry Wexler to serve as editor.
“At first it was a therapeutic device that got me out of my stupor and moving forward,” Bean said. “But it also had the potential to serve a much more useful purpose, to have a wider positive impact.”
As the book began to take shape, the team recruited local tutor and former elementary school teacher Gail Gorske to do the illustrations. Described on its cover as “A Children’s First Mental Health Primer,” the book depicts seven relatable young characters who struggle with various challenges such as self-doubt, learning disorders and behavior issues. In honor of Ethan’s love of trains and his April 3 birthday, the story is structured around a train called Engine 403. Seven children, whose names were chosen by Blair, board the train to deal with their respective issues. Stacey, a social worker, contributed her knowledge of children with atypical behaviors.
In 40 pages of catchy rhymes and 19 full-color illustrations, the book addresses topics such as coping with difficult emotions, being kind to those who may appear different, and seeking support from parents and other safe adults. It also has a section on internet safety, including the dangers of the dark web.
The book premiered Nov. 23, 2019, which is International Suicide Survivors Day. It is the first official project of the Ethan Bean Mental Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit organization the Beans established a year after Ethan’s death. The organization is dedicated to removing societal stigma and improving acceptance and support for those with mental health issues by creating awareness and providing educational resources.
“Kids who are anxious, depressed or who have ADHD or ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can really struggle … I’m pleased to see a children’s book addressing mental health and reminding kids that there are safe people to talk to when their feelings are too big for comfort,” said therapist and former special educator Judith Lipson.
Ethan and Erik Bean
Proceeds from the book will be used to sponsor other educational initiatives at local elementary schools and to motivate government officials to support mental health initiatives in schools and juvenile correction facilities. Future plans include a hardcover version for libraries and other institutions made possible by contributions to the Ethan Bean Mental Health Fund at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, where the Beans belong.
While Bean and his team brought the book to fruition, he saw Ethan as the guiding force throughout the process.
“Ethan is the foot soldier,” Bean said. “His voice is driving the message that we have to do more about mental health. Helping to mitigate the struggles of other ‘atypical’ people is a way for his legacy to live on.”
Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express is available through Amazon.com in paperback and an electronic Kindle edition, and online at the Self Esteem Shop in Casco, Mich., https://selfesteemshop.com.
For more information or to donate to the Ethan Bean Mental Wellness Foundation, visit
ethanbean.org or email email@example.com.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential 24/7 support. Call 1-800-273-8255, or text 741-741.
Our proposal submitted in January 2020 for the summer 2020 Literacy & Language Summer Institute was accepted on May 1st, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was scheduled for the 2021 event. This is a significant milestone in the journey of the story that features 7 kids: Rena, Evan, Leah, Jesse, Hannah, Josh and Max who struggle with various mental health challenges as they travel through the social spheres of influence including family, faith, friends, school and community.
The book also provides tips to avoid the dark web and areas of the Internet that can lead to isolation or danger and contains 19 brilliantly photographed handcrafted paper illustrations. As of May 1, 2020 the book is competing in more than a half dozen contests for its literary rhymes and messages and unique artwork with results set to be released from June 2020 through June 2021. The acceptance at the National Council of Teacher's of English Summer Institute is another opportunity to expose the important messages of the story designed to help not only atypicals involving the full range of "neurodiversity" children, but an overarching reminder that inclusion involves the acceptance of every child as each faces daily mental health challenges. All proceeds from the book support the Ethan Bean Mental Wellness Foundation, a non-profit Michigan public charity.