To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is America’s best-loved book. Over the past six months readers cast 4 million votes to name the books closest to their heart during The Great American Read, the PBS program that got us talking about and sharing our favorite novels.
The series’ finale on October 23, 2018, filmed live at the Masonic Hall in New York City, revealed how 100 novels stacked up in voting after they were first selected in a public opinion poll. It turns out that To Kill a Mockingbird held the lead during the entire five-month voting period.
Harper Lee hit it big in all ways with her first novel: To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was an instant best-seller, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1961, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 1962, and remains one of the best-selling novels today with more than 40 million copies sold in more than 40 languages.
Despite its critical acclaim and popularity, it may come as a surprise that To Kill a Mockingbird had been one of the most often banned and challenged books, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Those who argue against the book’s inclusion in school curriculum and libraries say the book’s racially offensive slurs and sexual references make it inappropriate for children.
What’s To Kill a Mockingbird About?
With this novel, Lee wrote about what was close to her own heart: the people she grew up with and the racial and social injustices she witnessed in a small, segregated Southern town, in the 1930s. The novel’s setting is a stand-in for Monroeville, Alabama, where Lee was born and died (April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016). The main character is a six-year-old girl named Scout, and her precocious playmate Dill is based on Lee’s lifelong friend, author Truman Capote.
Scout, a tomboy, is often bewildered by the behavior of adults, and even that of her friends and older brother Jem. She admires her widower father Atticus, a lawyer who is representing Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Even though Robinson’s innocence is proven, he is convicted. As Atticus gently explains society’s ills to Scout, she loses some of her innocence as well.
For anyone who saw the Academy Award-winning film To Kill a Mockingbird (1961), it’s hard to read the book and not envision Atticus as actor Gregory Peck, who played him in the movie.
Top Five Books
On October 11, we shared a tease of which 10 books were leading the vote in The Great American Read. The finale revealed these top five books, in order of votes. Two authors are American and the rest are British; two are living authors (Gabaldon and Rowling):
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- Outlander (series), by Diana Gabaldon
- Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
- Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
- The Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
What to Read Next
Just because The Great American Read series has ended, you can still stream all episodes online or with THIRTEEN Explore and PBS apps. We hope that watching the series and reviewing the sortable list of 100 novels (available for download) will inspire your personal reading list.
If you’ve already read To Kill a Mockingbird, you might want to consider the surprise second novel by Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman.
Published in July 2015, this To Kill a Mockingbird sequel was actually written first. It depicts Scout as a young woman visiting her hometown during the 1950s Civil Rights era.
To Kill a Mockingbird fans were shocked not only that there was a second novel, but by the portrayal of Atticus, whose views on race in this novel are prejudiced. He is no longer his little girl’s hero. The social media reactions in 2015 by media, authors and readers were mixed.
Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird Resources
American Masters, the PBS series produced by THIRTEEN, explores the lives and creative journeys of America’s most enduring artistic and cultural giants, offers many resources about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, including:
- The documentary Harper Lee: American Masters (2015; streaming now), released when To Set a Watchman was published.
- Famous Quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird
- Recipe for Lane cake, a southern speciality featured in To Kill a Mockingbird
- Harper Lee by the Numbers: The Writer and Her Novels.
The New York Public Library offers a To Kill a Mockingbird reading guide for book clubs and groups.
Teachers can use PBS LearningMedia To Kill a Mockingbird lessons plans and videos for grades 6 and up.