After Life

A nonfiction children's book by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox.

Merrie-Ellen Wilcox

Why do we die? Why can't we live forever? What happens to us after death? Moving between science and culture, After Life: Ways We Think About Death takes a straightforward look at these and other questions long taboo in our society. By showing the fascinating, diverse ways in which we understand death, both today and throughout our history, the book also shines a light on what it is to be human. Each chapter includes a brief telling of a death legend, myth or history from a different culture or tradition, from Adam and Eve to Wolf and Coyote, and ends with a section on a common theme in our thinking about death, such as rivers and birds in the afterlife, the colours that different cultures use to symbolize death, and, of course, ghosts. The final chapter is about grief, which is both a universal human experience and unique to each person. The text offers suggestions for ways to think about our grief, when to ask for help and how to talk to friends who are grieving. (From Orca Book Publishers)

After Life is shortlisted for the 2019 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. The $50,000 prize is the biggest in Canadian children's literature. The winner will be announced on Oct. 15, 2019.

From the book

From the beginning of our history, humans have sung, danced, painted and written about death. But these days we don't talk much about death, especially around kids. Why is that? All human beings die, after all — and with almost eight billion of us on the planet, there's a lot of dying going on.

Death has always been mysterious. Just as babies can't look back and tell us anything about where they were before they were born, no one who dies can come back to tell us where they went and what it was like. So we've always tried to understand and explain not only what happens to us when we are no longer living, but also how we should live our lives to make sure that what happens after we die is good.

From After Life by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox ©2018. Published by Orca Book Publishers.

Why Merrie-Ellen Wilcox wrote After Life

"The book came about after I finished my first book and sort of by accident. I was on the board of the Victoria Hospice Society. I was sitting in a meeting one day and was feeling a bit bored. I started thinking about how fun it was to write that first book and what I was going to write about next.

"We were talking about things related to hospice and I started thinking about death. I jumped on my bike after the meeting and went home to my desk. I searched the Internet to realize that I couldn't find any nonfiction books on the subject for kids aged 9 to 12 about death and grief.

There were picture books for younger kids and novels for older kids about grief but no nonfiction for this particular age group.  I was amazed by that fact.- Merrie-Ellen Wilcox

"There were picture books for younger kids and novels for older kids about grief but no nonfiction for this particular age group. I was amazed by that fact. I started asking around — including teachers, librarians, booksellers, parents and grandparents — and realized there was a desperate need for this book. And so I jumped in."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.