Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Penguin Modern Classics)The image is not intended to represent either Veruca Salt or Violet Beauregarde, publishers say

Penguin has defended its decision to use an image of a doll-like young girl on the cover of a new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Members of the public reacted angrily when the new edition – part of the Penguin Modern Classics range – was revealed on Wednesday.

The cover was deemed "misleading" and "creepy". Author Giles Paley-Phillips said it looked "more like Lolita".

But Penguin said it stressed "the light and the dark aspects" of Dahl's work.

"This design is in recognition of the book's extraordinary cultural impact and is one of the few children's books to be featured in the Penguin Modern Classics list.

"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," said a statement from Penguin

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of a handful of children's books to be made part of the Penguin Modern Classics series, which features around 800 titles considered, by the publisher, to be "the most exciting, groundbreaking and inspiring works of the last 100 years".

Other children's titles in the range include Tarka the Otter and Alice in Wonderland.

The new edition, which comes out on 4 September, coincides with the 50th anniversary celebrations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, first published in 1964.

The tale follows a sweet-natured, impoverished boy who is one of five children to find a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka's mysterious chocolate factory.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (anniversary edition)The 50th anniversary edition will retain classic illustrations by Sir Quentin Blake

Reacting to the cover, Chocolat author Joanne Harris tweeted: '"I'm not sure why adults need a different cover anyway, but who was it who decided that "adult" meant "inappropriately sexualised"?

"Seriously, Penguin Books. Why not just get Rolf Harris to design the next one?" she added.

A spokeswoman for Penguin stressed that the new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was "intended for an adult audience", adding that the cover image was not intended to represent either of female children featured in the story.

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.

"We wanted something that spoke about the other qualities in the book," Penguin Press's Helen Conford told the Bookseller. "It's a children's story that also steps outside children's and people aren't used to seeing Dahl in that way."

But authors and public alike have argued that the children's classic is not a crossover book, in the manner of Harry Potter or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series.

"[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'," Paley-Phillips told the Bookseller.

"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 Dahl's traditional illustrator Sir Quentin Blake.