A strange new look for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

On its 50th anniversary, one of Roald Dahl’s most well known books – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – is being reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic. Its cover, which places some of Dahl’s darker themes in front of a new audience, has already caused something of a stir online

charlie_cover388_0.jpg - A strange new look for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - 6690

On its 50th anniversary, one of Roald Dahl’s most well known books – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – is being reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic. Its cover, which places some of Dahl’s darker themes in front of a new audience, has already caused something of a stir online…

Published next month, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will become one of a handful of children’s books on the Modern Classics list. Its long life as a children’s favourite has seen covers ranging from depictions of Willy Wonka and his factory to Charlie Bucket and his golden ticket, with many incarnations penned by Dahl’s long-term collaborator, Quentin Blake.

The approach for the new edition could not be more different.

The image used is in fact a cropped version of a picture taken by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, which originally appeared in a 2008 issue of Numéro magazine as part of a retro-styled fashion story called Mommie Dearest (shown below).

Image via Noir Façade

Initial reaction, on Twitter at least, hasn’t been that favourable with many commenters believing the image of a young girl readied as if for a beauty pageant to be too unsettling, and more in keeping with stereotypical cover ideas for Nabokov’s Lolita.

Indeed, debate regarding the sexualisation of children may seem out of place on the front of a children’s book, and without the wider context of the original fashion spread – which would certainly suggest the hand of the parent is at work in the process – the image is understandably more provocative.

That said, I think it works. While the candy-colours hint at the sickly-sweetness of Willy Wonka’s confection, of more significance is the unnerving quality of the image which touches on one of the main undercurrents in the book: the relationship between children and their parents, and what can happen when fame and fortune enter into their lives. (Visually, if it alludes to any of the book’s characters, it’s likely to be Veruca Salt, the spoilt English darling who gets anything she wants. Here, her ‘mother’ has been cropped just out of shot).

Yet perhaps what has added to the upset stems from the way readers associate certain books with certain covers. Any deviation from the norm – in the form of a new cover – is an affront to their own experience of the book.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a book that many will have read in childhood, but not gone back to. In producing another visual take on the story (and one of the themes within it), a further aim of the new cover is to attract those who might now consider reading the book again. After all, themes that were once undetectable many years ago, might now come rearing back into focus. The title’s position as part of the Modern Classics series invites such a reassessment by adult readers, so it is important that the cover addresses this new perspective.

According to a page on the Penguin blog, the Modern Classics cover “looks at the children at the centre of the story, and highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life.”

It does that well, perhaps disturbingly well. Speculation, of course, but I think Dahl may well have been in favour.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is published as a Penguin Modern Classic on September 4 (£7.99). More at penguinclassics.co.uk.

  • Just way too off, and having recently read a dahl biography i’d say he would not be in favour of this

  • Anon

    I like it, and the mother-figure has been cropped just enough to provide an ominous presence, even without her eyes in shot.

    Not sure about the grey titling though, why not go for a sickly-rich, deep (chocolate) brown?

  • It seems a bit misleading, doesn’t it? If I knew nothing about the book, this cover would suggest to me that it’s a really disturbing story for adults, probably a thriller about young girls in the beauty industry.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d read it, but I think a reader who hasn’t heard of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would feel duped by this cover when they read it. Yes the book’s a dark commentary on how our parents can turn us into total brats, but also it’s a really funny, whimsical story about a sweet factory.

  • Nik

    great crop though

  • Paul Taylor

    What a pretentious piece of post-rationalising bollocks. As a sometime writer of children’s books, as well as an art director, I’m a great admirer of Dahl’s unparalleled ability to blend dark and light elements in his book. That said, he wrote for children. This image, appropriated from a somewhat disturbing fashion shoot, was created for adults. I can only think that the book designer’s decision to choose this image was in order to stir up some controversy. In which case, congratulations – job done.

  • No matter what you think of the cover, you have to say Penguin always have an ability to cause debate. I purposely haven’t read this CR article as I wanted to write a response without reading the rationale from the designer. After all, the majority of people will also see this cover without that knowledge.

    Would it personally make me buy the cover? No.
    Am I intrigued how they got this through a cover meeting? Hell, yeah.
    Is it risky, bold, adventurous? Yes.
    Does it make for an appropriate cover? Possibly not. But if it sells, then who are we to argue.
    Will the average man in the book shop (sorry, Amazon) be confused? Probably.

  • A C

    Totally inappropriate – It is a shame that they are taking a much loved childhood book and turning it into a media stunt. As an educator, parent, photographer and writer I do have to say taken aback by this. Are the so desperate for publicity that they have to stoop so low as to attach an inapproprate and misleading photograph to the book??? When I look at it, the who concept gives me a very creepy feeling as the positioning and cropping make it a totally inappropriate cover for a children’s book. Also, where is the creativity in using a photograph already used in fashion media??? Where are the main characters??? Complete publicity stunt!

  • .

    Has anybody stopped being so offended by the idea that their own childhood is being “tainted” and considered that maybe the audience for *this* book isn’t children?

    Dahl wrote for children, sure; but some of those children have since grown-up – perhaps the Penguin Classics version is aimed at inviting those readers to return to it, perhaps with a darker perspective on the themes that Dahl was writing about.

    There is so much anger and hate being directed towards this cover, but if you really don’t like it then just don’t buy it; for yourself or for your kids. There are plenty of other versions you can get. This one isn’t hurting you, or Dahl, or children – calm down folks.

  • TP

    Love the imagery that’s been used here. It really depicts childhood and youthfulness.

  • S Beij

    There are so many other ways to do a publicity stunt – this just seems like a genuine bit of boundary-pushing in terms of considering a well-known children’s story afresh. The story has unequivocal dark elements, unbelievably spoiled children, questionable parents and an odd man keeping hundreds of ‘servants’ in check, searching for his successor through sickly sweet trials.

    So many typical ‘much-loved’ (an oft-used phrase in this instance) children’s tales have dark ancestry, why not reflect it in an equally disturbing cover image? Since when does a book cover have to feature the main characters?!

    And the person above has nailed it – if you don’t like it, stick to the Quentin Blake editions! It’s not like this will replace all others.

  • Catherine

    One major theme of the book is tainted childhood. The idea of a child spoilt to suit the parents needs and insecurities is represented clearly in the image. Personally, it would have worked for me as a child reading the book, and I think kids will relate to it and relate to the story.

  • Given that the novel was written by a sneering racist who, in the first edition before it was sanitized, described the fantasy slaves, Oompa-Loompas, as being “from the blackest part of Africa where no white man had ever been,” the more tasteless the better.

  • Love the image but not sure I like it as a cover. Were it part of a series of covers more clearly depicting the individual children I’d be more into it. Knowing the image wasn’t creating specifically for the cover, and the story the picture was meant to tell, makes it a bit more complicated. Saying that, most people won’t know the picture’s history so I’m really talking about nothing here.

    The real controversy here is the choice of font type, colour and placement. Horrible

  • Red Snapper

    Oh for the simple genius of Quentin Blake. And Katharine Weber…I think you may have issues.

  • Anon

    @theawkwardstag RE: font, colour, placement

    Agreed, although as I said before I think all it needs is the introduction of a heavy chocolate brown colour to really make it uncomfortable (in a good way!)

    However, I believe the type treatment is a part of the Penguin Classics branding, hence it looking like a bit of an afterthought.

  • Dan


  • The original Photograph is a great image. As a book cover its smacks of trying to be too clever. Just doesn’t relate to the story properly at all and no longer looks like a book for children

  • Rosie Milton

    Fantastic!! Really thought-provoking and controversial. Brings those sinister issues right to the surface.

  • Ian

    Not keen.

  • @anon I was thinking that myself but if you’re going to use a template layout you should make sure the images work with it (and vice versa)

  • Sue Davies

    Interesting image but patently not for this book – it would make more sense if it was a commentary on children’s literature in general – I doubt if the designer read, understood or cared about the actual story; it has been designed to be bought and to sit on a shelf in a home without children as a talking point.

    The article doesn’t even know which child it could represent, a bit of understanding and imagination could have delivered a provocative but relevant image – Charlies’ background is one of absolute despair and hopelessness with morbidly depressed grandparents, but perhaps there were no fashion shoots to represent the bleak reality of poverty.

    The other children in the story are repulsive but Dahl tends to point to nature not nurture being the cause so the cover is doubly irrelevant.

    It may sell – but not to children.

  • Ed Wright

    I agree that Charlie has darker themes – old age, poverty, responsibility, greed, peer pressure, etc – but this image is introducing a sexualised and/or abused theme which overshadows everything and anything else, and I don’t think is reflected in the book.

    I can see how the girl on the cover might resemble Veruca Salt, but Veruca was the greedy oppressor, not the oppressed.

  • I would like to defend the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover and how it has stayed true to Roald Dahl’s theme of the exploitation of children. Read more – http://www.politicsbeyondpoliticians.com/2014/08/defending-controversial-new-charlie-and.html

  • George

    haha as I was reading the article I was thinking ‘Ooohhhh what will the design community say about this in the comment section’. I laugh when people, particularly in the industry, get so caught up in this sort of thing. Quite nice that Penguin had the balls to release something a little different.

  • Mat

    @Ed Wright

    I think this cover is entirely inappropriate and disturbing. However, I disagree that Veruca, a mere child, albeit a very spoiled and demanding one, was not a type of victim. In the original book Veruca is the one child whose parents are punished alongside them, and in their song the Oompa-Loompa’s reserve most of their contempt for Mr and Mrs Salt who enabled Veruca’s bratty behaviour and turned her into such a “nasty brute” in the first place. Thus, one might argue that Veruca, in her own way, was a victim.

    That said, this cover is still too sexualised. I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine Veruca looking similar to the blonde, pink-clad girl in the picture (it’s not too dissimilar to how she is portrayed in Quentin Blake’s illustrations, and I’ve always personally regarded the character as a girly girl type, in contrast to Violet Beauregarde who is more of a tomboy) but there is no reason on earth to feature such cover that has nothing to do with Charlie Bucket, the book’s protagonist, or the chocolate factory, and does creepily evoke images of oversexualised child pageant contestants.

  • Marc

    Everyone’s graphic designer

  • Berlina

    It’s a fanatastic image, disturbing for sure. The static and vacant doll like girl don’t quite sit with the feeling I remember from the story, but the colours and textures are spot on! It almost looks like she is wrapped in candy floss..

  • Matt

    What’s that saying? Never judge a book by it’s cover?

    When I first saw this cover I didn’t like it, it didn’t immediately sit with the primary character of the story so seemed like an odd choice. However, after a little consideration I realised it points to the greater and darker themes of the story, and was actually a great image to use. Yes it’s a bold choice for a ‘children’s’ story but the Modern Classic series is aimed at adults so that’s a mute argument for me (I’m sure the Quentin Blake version will still be in the Children’s section!)

    Would we prefer a little boy with a face covered in chocolate? I think not!

  • More Stepford Wives than Charlie Bucket.
    I think the darkness of Dahl’s writing was offset by the illustrations. And not just Blake’s – the copy I remember from school was quite different.

    However, this just over plays the darkness and implies something else.

    Which ever way you look at it we’ve already given it far too much of our time.

  • It’s a nice look overall. I liked it.

  • Shelby Kennedy

    Personally , Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite books and movies growing up. Even when the Johnny Depp version came out , I still had some good things to say. This cover does not do a good job capturing what the book is even about. I feel like this cover implies something completely dark and ominous. As a designer , the cover doesn’t give a first time reader a brief glimpse into what they could possible read. If I didn’t know what this book was about I would not be interested in opening it up and seeing what it has to offer.

  • MDM

    I’m a little late to comment on this discussion, but I think as a standalone image, it does its job very, very well. The message it is conveying is perfect. As a cover for the book though, I don’t think it fits that well. Sure, it captures one theme of the book, but a cover should capture more than one theme that’s presented in the book in order to work, and this image does not do that. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the title of the book very well.

  • Kaitlyn Keating

    This book is already a classic for a reason, so why fix something if it’s producing? Yes, sometimes you need a facelift to reengage people but taking a drastic turn is un-necessary.
    Roald Dahl wrote this book for children and with that being said, this image is disturbing and would make a child cry. All this reminded me of was “Chucky” and the creepy doll’s head spinning around.
    This photo has nothing to do with the wonderful children’s book “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.” The photo was taken for a magazine with a story titled “Mommy Dearest.” Where in the book is there any resemblance?
    Yea the parents of Verruca may have given her everything she wanted but, they weren’t abusive and or controlling and neither were any of the other parents. This photograph was meant for something else and should say like that.
    The major theme of the book is not represented and the cover doesn’t catch a person’s eye. Usually you want something interesting and bold, but not something that confuses people or makes them think of other products rather then yours.
    So, where are all of the bright colors, the chocolate bars, golden ticket the protagonist and antagonist? That cover would embody childhood and the story. If you wanted to put Dahl’s dark twist on it just do an animation in black and white. You don’t need something drastic and boring to make a statement. You just need the right imagery.
    In my opinion, this controversial photograph is a great image but it’s just not for a children’s book. Yes, this image stirs up some controversy. It’s more promotion for the book and more suspense to see if Penguin sticks with this idea. But, it’s a facelift gone wrong.