Penguin causes controversy with creepy ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ book cover

Penguin Modern Classics – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

The new cover design for ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

For the first time ever, Roald Dahl’s classic children’s’ story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been published as a Penguin Modern Classic.

Penguin Modern Classics – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory teaser imagePrior to the reveal, Penguin posted a teaser image on Facebook, and asked fans to guess which story the cover related to, with many associating the blonde child and 60’s aesthetic to the image with either Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, or Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.

However, after unveiling the new cover via social media, many fans criticised the choice of imagery (taken from a fashion shoot entitled Mommy Dearest), with some declaring it “awful” and “inappropriate”.

Penguin explained the rationale behind the choice of image;

“This new image for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY 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, ready for Charlie’s debut amongst the adult titles in the Penguin Modern Classics series.”

Despite this, many fans still couldn’t see the link between the image and the story.

It’s a brave move by Penguin, and although the image does appear to be a strange choice, perhaps it could work as a series of covers, each one featuring a different child character and parent from the story.

What are your thoughts on the cover? Is it inappropriate? Leave a comment letting us know.

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6 Responses to Penguin causes controversy with creepy ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ book cover

  1. Amy U says:

    Maybe my phone screen is too small, but I don’t understand the reaction OR the connection to the book. I had no reaction to it.

    • I think the main concern is the choice of photography, particularly the use of female characters. Rather than trying to depict the main protagonist Charlie and his Grandpa, this cover focusses on one of the two female child characters, who despite being important in the story, are basically supporting characters. This is likely where the disassociation between the story and the cover starts.

      For some people, this cover style is also a radical change to the classic Roald Dahl books, which had instantly recognisable illustrations by Quentin Blake. And let’s be honest, some people just don’t like change.

      Personally I quite like the sinister tone of the cover. Roald Dahl did write some very dark stories, both for adults and children, so an eery, unsettling image is quite apt for his writing, particularly this story about a crazed, sadistic factory owner disposing of spoilt children.

  2. Gavin says:

    Rather like Amy, I had no initial reaction to it. The photo made me think of the American styled pageants for kids, which none of the characters are a part of. However, it’s within that world of beauty pageants that from a UK perspective I see a similar dark side to parenting that there is in the book – unchecked desires lead to a bad end. I’m not averse to dropping the Quentin Blake illustrations, and if you’re going to break from a tradition, you might as well go in completely the opposite direction.

    • Hi Gavin, you’re not the first person I’ve spoken to about the cover who’s made the same connection between the imagery and pageants, and I think it’s safe to assume that the image was selected for the cover because of it’s dark undertones.

      As I mentioned in reply to Amy, I think the cover is somewhat appropriate to a story as dark as this (although I do feel it’s perhaps a little too dark for a children’s story), but as you’ve pointed out, the story revolves around this idea of the ‘dark side of parenting’ – as I recall the children in the story are rude and spoilt because of their parents attitudes towards them.

      If we drop the assumption that the models in the photograph are not in fact intended to portray characters from the story, and instead are there to portray your idea of ‘dark parenting’, then I actually think this cover works perfectly.

      Even if a reader stops and picks up a copy because they’re confused by the cover, the cover has done it’s job. And with a story as well-known as this, it really doesn’t matter what you put on the cover anyway. I think that’s partly the reason why they went in such an obscure direction – why not?

  3. Lydia G. says:

    I think the cover is very interesting. I especially enjoy the vibrant colors. I remember reading the book and watching the old1970s movie when I was a kid so those colors bring back pleasant but slightly twisted memories if I say so myself. But I really cannot not tell if that girl in the photo is a doll or not. It’s actually really bothering me!

    However, I’m not sure if you will agree with me on this or not, but the way the typography is set up seems to cheapen the overall look of the cover. I think the font choice was perhaps the wrong route to take. What are your thoughts?

    I would really like to get into book design myself. Seems though like a hard field to break into.

  4. Dan says:

    It´s not so much that it´s inappropriate. It´s a matter of not being related to the material. Even though the novel touches upon some universal themes and is thoroughly enjoyable by adults, it´s a children´s novel. Made amazing by Quentin Blake´s illustrations. This cover, I think, attempts to give new meaning to a story that, frankly, doesn’t need it.

What do you think?

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