Hilary McKay.

News is just in from Margaret K. McElderry Books that the house has acquired the rights to publish Wishing for Tomorrow, a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1905 classic, A Little Princess, to be written by British author Hilary McKay. McElderry Books will release the novel in January 2010. The U.K. edition is due from Hodder in September.

McKay, who wrote The Exiles and its sequels, as well as Saffy’s Angel and subsequent novels about the irrepressible Casson clan, has long been fascinated by A Little Princess. As a child, the author read and reread the story of Sara Crewe, a wealthy, pampered girl plunged into a penniless, dreary existence at a London boarding school after her father’s death. “I was mesmerized by the world Burnett described: early 20th-century London, an old-fashioned school, rainy pavements and candlelit attics, the smell of hot currant buns to a hungry child, the rustle of colored silk,” McKay recalls. “I knew the details so well I could have lived there myself.”

The author found the novel’s ending “perfect in all ways but one.” She was plagued by the lingering questions she had about Sara’s friends, who are left behind when the heroine drives away at the end of A Little Princess. McKay decided she must answer the question, “What happened next?” In Wishing for Tomorrow, she does just that, continuing the stories of Ermengarde, Lottie, Lavinia and others who remain at the school.

McElderry editorial director Karen Wojtyla, who edits McKay’s novels, was in turn mesmerized by Wishing for Tomorrow. “I am always astonished anew when I read anything from Hilary McKay,” she says. “I should know by now that I am going to be laughing through my heartfelt sighs. Here, Hilary has brought us back to all of our old friends from A Little Princess and given them a fuller, rounder portrayal, with her eye as sharp as ever for human foibles—and her heart as sympathetic. With a surprise visit from Sara at the end, this is a lovely story about finding your way and things coming out right.”