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Wishing for Tomorrow: The sequel to A Little Princess

Review

Wishing for Tomorrow: The sequel to A Little Princess

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A LITTLE PRINCESS was published in 1905 after two previous incarnations as a play and a shorter book. It has remained a children’s classic for over 100 years and has been adapted into various plays and movies since. A LITTLE PRINCESS is about Sara Crewe, a privileged child at a boarding school. But after her father dies and his fortune vanishes, she becomes a poorly treated servant in the same school until a mysterious benefactor discovers her true identity and restores her to her life of ease.

Essential to the story is Sara imagining --- both as a person of privilege and as a person in poverty --- that she is a princess. This fantasy provides her not only with the strength to endure during difficult times, but it also gives her a code of behavior. Protector of the weak and small, Sara learns that even servants with little to call their own can provide assistance to people in need. The dignity and courage her imagination gives her sees her through her trials and draws the attention of a mysterious benefactor who can sense her noble spirit even when she is dressed in rags. Ultimately, Sara’s riches are restored to her, but when A LITTLE PRINCESS ends, readers are left to wonder what happens to the friends --- and the enemies --- who Sara leaves behind.

Award-winning author Hilary McKay has often wondered about the girls left in Miss Minchin’s school. She has written WISHING FOR TOMORROW to tell us what happened to snobbish Lavinia, loyal Ermengarde and mischievous Lotte. The result is nearly as charming as the original book. McKay --- who demonstrates a deft psychological insight in all her books --- also uncovers reasons for some of the more villainous characters’ behavior. Lavinia, we learn, is not just mean and jealous but hungry for intellectual life beyond the confines of finishing school. This is a life Miss Minchin once yearned for herself before necessity and convention determined her role as mistress of the same.

However, WISHING FOR TOMORROW is carried by Ermengarde, whose loyalty in A LITTLE PRINCESS is rewarded with little more than a supporting role housed in a character described as both fat and dim. WISHING FOR TOMORROW addresses this gross injustice by revealing Ermengarde as someone who has a gift of seeing to the heart of things. Where Sara’s gift is for imaginings, Ermengarde’s is for truth. After she gets eyeglasses (which address her troubled learning), Ermengarde discovers she has a knack for writing, and much of the novel is told in her engaging letters to Sara about life at Miss Minchin’s and the girls who still live there.

McKay captures the lush descriptive style of Burnett’s original along with the deft dialogue that reveals each of the characters. Going back to read A LITTLE PRINCESS, I was surprised to see how much McKay’s work deepened the characters and conflicts in the original book. WISHING FOR TOMORROW also reveals some of the weaknesses in Burnett’s book and provides answers for questions like why Sara didn’t share the news of her impending good fortune with her schoolroom friends, especially after “the Magic” starts to transform her attic bedroom and her personal appearance.

Filled with adventures and intrigue as the girls deal with their losses and stretch towards the freedom they never imagined before Sara led the way, WISHING FOR TOMORROW is not only a charming sequel but also a lovely book in its own right. Best for readers who are already familiar with the original, McKay adds a few new characters, including Sara’s replacement, Alice. Even though she is a servant, Alice is a no-nonsense country girl who resists Miss Minchin’s bullying and fills the school with a pragmatic can-do spirit, much like Martha the Yorkshire maid in Burnett’s other beloved classic, THE SECRET GARDEN.

McKay resolves WISHING FOR TOMORROW --- and A LITTLE PRINCESS --- by providing a bright future for each of the characters, even Lavinia and Miss Minchin. By providing a chance for each character to follow the dictates of her own heart, McKay suggests that Sara’s code of behavior --- the wisdom, kindness and generosity of a princess --- is best realized when people are given the opportunities to explore not just their goodness but also what they are good for in this world.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on March 22, 2011

Wishing for Tomorrow: The sequel to A Little Princess
by Hilary McKay

  • Publication Date: March 22, 2011
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • ISBN-10: 1442401702
  • ISBN-13: 9781442401709