Penguin’s controversial cover art for the Penguin Modern Classics version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has caused division among both readers and booksellers, with some book stores refusing to stock the new edition.  Penguin has defended the cover, stressing the edition is aimed at adults and not children. The cover features a heavily made-up young girl with an eerily blank expression.


Helen Conford, publishing director at Penguin Press, said the cover is a deliberate move away from the Quentin Blake illustrations used for the children’s edition. The image is taken from a French magazine shoot by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, for a 2008 fashion article entitled Mommie Dearest.

“It’s a completely different style and there is a fantasy element here,” Conford told Bookseller, pointing out that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like most of Dahl’s work, is quite adult in some ways. “We wanted something that spoke about the other qualities in the book… it’s a children’s story that also steps outside children’s and people aren’t used to seeing Dahl in that way.” She also said she didn’t see the sexualisation of the young girl on the cover many have complained about.

The fake lashes and lipstick should be a dead give-away.

Bookseller Ron Johns said it was “postmodern it’s not even relevant to the story”, and Frances Smith called it “totally inappropriate” and said that “I have no problem selling to adults from the children’s section and there are better, alternative versions.” Several authors voiced their complaints, with children’s author Lucy Coats saying “My first reaction was that it was a cover for Lolita. It is sexualised and has nothing to do with the book.” Giles Paley-Philips said the image was “ill-judged”, adding: “[There is] a lot of ill feeling about it, I think because it’s such a treasured book and a book which isn’t really a ‘crossover book’. People want it to remain as a children’s book.”

The Modern Classics edition is one of three special editions of the original book released this year, including a double-cover paperback and a ‘golden edition’ featuring full-colour illustrations by beloved illustrator Quentin Blake. I suspect the Blake edition will easily sell more copies out of general nostalgia. After all most of us grew up with his vision of Roald Dahl’s work, and many other books he has illustrated.

The little girl on the cover may remind readers of Veruca Salt. This is Quentin Blake’s version –


There was nothing about Veruca that was doll-like, despite the similar hair and dress. Penguin is famed for their cover art and I agree this is supposed to be a post-modern interpretation of Dahl’s book. But I still don’t like it. Some of us adults aren’t embarrassed to read the children’s versions of books.

What do you think of the new cover? You can leave a comment for Penguin on their Facebook page.


About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

4 Responses

  1. Jamie Adair

    I’m not sure what to make of this cover. On the one hand, like most of Dahl’s books Charlie & the CC has disturbing themes that are quite subversive and aren’t exactly kid friendly, so maybe this cover isn’t that far out of keeping with the book.

    On the other hand, what is the thematic relevance? Is Penguin trying to underline the book’s oblique commentary on capitalism by putting a posh looking little girl on the cover.

    This book cover certainly does highlight the disturbing secondary characters at the chocolate factory. Somehow the girl/image has a faint whiff of a 1971 A Clockwork Orange.

    I doubt the cover would make me buy the book for a child. It might make me reread it as an adult, possibly to explore the more disturbing themes. I guess Penguin can’t highlight this aspect of the book in their marketing without turning off a child audience so perhaps this is an attempt to do that?

    • Olga Hughes

      Allegedly it’s supposed to underline the ‘disturbing relationships’ between the other children and their parents in the book. As a thematic reference I don’t buy it, the picture also reminds me of JonBenet to be frank, it looks like a child beauty Queen.
      I like your Clockwork Orange reference! Honestly I wouldn’t buy it at all, I am perfectly happy to read the Quentin Blake version.

      Men Who Stare at Books did a pretty funny parody of the cover here

  2. Jamie Adair

    That link is very funny. In all seriousness though, the more I look at it, I find that cover incredibly disturbing. It *is* reminiscent of Jon Benet with the little girl’s adult-like makeup. I think the cover is effective though because it is provocative.
    It also reminded me of how disturbing Dahl’s books are. I only just brought myself to watch The Witches – forget reading it. I knew the ending and couldn’t get past the idea of it.

    ***–mild spoiler alert –***

    I felt like that particular story goes from bad (parents killed in car crash) at the outset to much much worse.

    • Olga Hughes

      I loved the Witches when I was a kid, now you’re making me question myself LOL.