Skip to Content

Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

The Watcher in the Woods

Author: Florence Engel Randall
Originally Published: 1976 (titled A Watcher in the Woods)
Courtney’s Edition: 1980
Publisher: Scholastic
Source: BookMooch

The Story

The first day that Jan sees the house she and her family will be moving in to their new home in the middle of the forest is the first time that Jan feels the Watcher watching her. But Jan isn’t the only person who can sense the Watcher – Mrs. Aylwood (the woman who used to live in their house) can see the Watcher, and Jan’s sister can hear the Watcher. No one knows why the Watcher is there, or what it wants – only that its appearance is somehow connected to the disappearance of Mrs. Aylwood’s fifteen year old daughter Karen disappeared 50 years ago.

With mirrors being broken, the television broadcasting mysterious messages and even being taken control of a few times, Jan is getting terrified and enlists the help of her younger sister and the cute next door neighbour boy, to find out what the Watcher wants.

The Response

I looooved the movie based on this book when I was a kid! Loved it so very, VERY much! In fact, this was the movie that started the trend of my naming things after fictional characters, when I got a hamster and named it “Narek.”

And yet, despite the fact that I loved this movie, I had no idea that it was based on a book until, say, three or four years ago. While I tried desperately to find a copy of it, it wasn’t meant to be until a few months ago, when I finally found it on Bookmooch.


I’m tempted to blog about how different this is from what I remember, except since I haven’t seen the movie in YEARS it would hardly be a good comparison at all. I will say this though: the book is as enjoyable as I had anticipated it being!

Since this was written in the mid-70’s there are some things that make you scratch your head (like when the Big Bang Theory is explained as this theory that no one knows anything about, while these days most people take it for the truth of what happened), but what I really like about a lot of these older books, including The Watcher in the Woods is that because there’s only a little bit of technology mentioned in it, it feels like it could happen today. While cell phones aren’t mentioned, it’s not hard to picture the main characters using them. Whereas books that do rely on gadgets and whatnot to tell their stories – since technology changes so quickly, I find that the story can get outdated very quickly. It makes me worry a little that some of the books I love won’t feel as relevant twenty or thirty years down the line, like The Watcher in the Woods still manages to.

One of the other things I really liked about this book was how the main characters – Jan, Mark and Ellie interacted with the adults that were around. It’s unusual in a lot of children’s or young adults books of this type to see the children working well with the adults in order to solve the mystery of whatever is going on – a lot more frequently you see the children having to deal with adults not believing the teens/children when told what’s really going on. While this does happen at the beginning with Jan’s mother, it’s not so with Jan’s father, or with Mrs. Aylwood. Jan’s father’s reaction was one of the best – he got all scholarly and helped Jan understand what was going on and what the watcher was trying to tell them. Having him as an interpreter certainly made the story flow faster for the children! It was just so exciting that he didn’t dismiss everything that was going on, that he didn’t try to talk it away, and that he actually worked with Jan to help both the watcher and Karen! I like it when adults and teens (or children) work together in stories like this – too often, parents/guardians/teachers/etc are seen as being dismissive of what the children/teens know is happening.

Another thing of note: this was actually deliciously creepy when reading alone in an apartment at night. It really made me feel like something was watching me, and while that wasn’t always the most pleasant of feelings, the fact of the matter is that it made me feel like there was something there. Even if it was just playing on the idea that there could be someone there that, for whatever reason, we couldn’t sense – whether it means it’s someone from another dimension, or a ghost, or whatever… Spooky!

The Bottom Line

Happy I read this finally! Now I’m wondering if I should attempt watching the movie again (though am worried that it would perhaps not live up to my memories of it). Would recommend it to people who have enjoyed books like Alexander Key’s Escape to Witch Mountain, and perhaps even Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Other Reviews

Have you reviewed this book on your blog? Let me know and I’ll add your link.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 6:46 am April 8, 2011.
Category: Young Adult
Book Author(s):

  • heidenkind

    I loved this movie too! I had no idea it was a book.

  • Memory

    I didn’t know this was a book, either! I saw the movie when I was really, really little, and it terrified me. The one scene, where the girl looks in the mirror and sees someone else looking back, scarred me for life.