One of the real pleasures of assembling our 90th Anniversary Issue was combing through the archives to see what Kirkus Reviews had to say about the classics as well as some lesser-known books. You’ll find excerpts from those archival children’s reviews below. We didn’t aim to represent every major title of the past 90 years but to highlight the ones that were most entertaining or illuminating today. Allhave been condensed and lightly edited, when necessary, for clarity.

SEPTEMBER 1947 | Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd

This picture book, now a bedtime staple of children around the world (it has been translated into two dozen languages), was once considered radical for its focus on the child’s everyday world.

Little children will love this going to sleep book—a really fresh idea by a talented and prolific author, illustrated by Clement Hurd. In a soft sing-song, here is a bunny saying goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight to all the familiar objects in the softly lighted room. Then—as the room darkens, in successive pictures, the goodnight ceremony moves forward. The colors range from a bright, crisp red, green, yellow, to an almost black background. Despite the high price, which takes it out of the straight merchandise market, this is a good buy, from quality of text and pictures—and most of all, idea.

OCTOBER 1952 | Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams

White, a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine since the 1920s, turned to children’s books with Stuart Little in 1945. His second book, about a pig facing slaughter, of all things, is a timeless classic.

A successful juvenile by the beloved New Yorker writer portrays a farm episode with an imaginative twist that makes a poignant, humorous story of a pig, a spider and a little girl. Young Fern Arable pleads for the life of runt piglet Wilbur and gets her father to sell him to a neighbor, Mr. Zuckerman. Daily, Fern visits the Zuckermans to sit and muse with Wilbur and with the clever pen spider Charlotte, who befriends him when he is lonely and downcast. At the news of Wilbur’s forthcoming slaughter, campaigning Charlotte, to the astonishment of people for miles around, spins words in her web. “Some Pig” comes first. Then “Terrific”—then “Radiant.” The last word, when Wilbur is about to win a show prize and Charlotte is about to die from building her egg sac, is “Humble.” And as the wonderful Charlotte does die, the sadness is tempered by the promise of more spiders next spring. The three way chats, in which they are joined by other animals—about web spinning, themselves, other humans—are as often informative as amusing, and the whole tenor of appealing wit and pathos will make fine entertainment for reading aloud, too.

OCTOBER 1957 | How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel is a more problematic figure in the kid-lit world today, but this book may be the best known of the many beginning readers he wrote and illustrated, thanks in part to the animated TV special.

Another Seuss-chimera joins the ranks of the unforgettable Horton with the advent of the Grinch—a sort of Yule Ghoul who lives in a cave just north of Who-ville. While all the Whos made ready on Christmas Eve the Grinch donned a Santa-Claus disguise. In gurgling verse at a galloping gait, we learn how the Grinch stole the “presents, the ribbons, the wrappings, the tags, the tinsel and trappings,” from all the Whos. But the Grinch’s heart (two sizes too small) melted just in time when he realized that the Whos enjoyed Christmas without any externals. Youngsters will be in transports over the goofy gaiety of Dr. Seuss’s first book about a villain—easily the best Christmas-cad since Scrooge. Inimitable Seuss illustrations of the Grinch’s dog Max disguised as a reindeer are in black and white with touches of red. Irrepressible and irresistible.

SEPTEMBER 1967 | From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

When Konigsburg—“Elaine” to our anonymous reviewer—submitted two manuscripts to Atheneum, she was unpublished; this book went on to win a Newbery Medal and the other was a Newbery Honor book.

Elaine Konigsburg’s first sharp bite of suburban life, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, was a dilly; this one’s a dandy—just as fast and fresh and funny, but less spoofing, more penetrating. From the files of Mrs. Frankweiler comes the chronicle of Claudia Kincaid, almost twelve, and her brother Jamie, who is nine. Tired of being her same old taken-for-granted self, Claudia decides to run away, and Jamie goes along because he is flattered at being asked. Claudia has planned every detail: escape on the empty school bus, change of clothing in a violin case, sanctuary in the Metropolitan Museum.…Midweek, a marble angel of dubious origin arrives; Claudia is convinced that it is a Michelangelo and determines to prove it: she will authenticate Angel and become a heroine before going home. But no—by arrangement of Mrs. Frankweiler, she goes home a heroine only to herself (and happy); and she knows something about secrets she hadn’t known before—they have to come to an end.…There may be a run on the Metropolitan (a map is provided); there will surely be a run on the book.

SEPTEMBER 1972 | Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Authors take a chance in writing a sequel to a successful book; will readers and critics like it as much as its predecessor? The Kirkus reviewer certainly didn’t think much of Dahl’s follow-up to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In a perfectly silly and pointlessly tasteless sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Willie Wonka’s glass elevator goes into orbit carrying Charlie, his parents, his grandparents, and the bed that three of the grandparents haven’t left for 20 years. They stop at a new U.S. Space Hotel causing panic back at the White House, where an illiterate President who tells knock-knock jokes thinks they are Martians and a broad-typed Chief of the Army wants to blow them up “crash bang wallop bang-bang-bang-bang-bang.” But when a horde of greenish, shapeless creatures called “vermicious knids” starts emerging from the space hotel’s elevators, the humans hop back to earth in their knid-proof glass one, towing a crew of terrified astronauts along.…With humor that depends on gratuitous references to the President’s pottie or the results of a very strong laxative, with the Oompa-Loompas still fetching and carrying, this has all the faults that disturbed grown-ups and none of the inspired outrageousness that attracted children to its predecessor.

AUGUST 1974 | M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

This book by the prolific and influential Hamilton won the National Book Award and the Newbery Medal; in 2010, the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement was established in her honor.

Virginia Hamilton goes home again to the hill country, where Sarah’s mountain has belonged to M.C.’s family (“and them to it”) ever since an ancestor fleeing slavery settled there with her infant. Now M.C., thirteen, worries about the spoil pile left from strip mining that seems destined to come sliding down on their house, and when “the Dude,” an outsider with a tape recorder, arrives to “take” Mama's voice, M.C. imagines that he will also take Mama away to make records—affording them all a chance to escape the spoil heap despite his Daddy’s stubborn refusal to move or to acknowledge the danger….Hamilton is at her best here; the soaring but firmly anchored imagery, the slant and music of everyday speech, the rich and engaging characters and warm, tough, wary family relationships, the pervasive awareness of both threat and support connected with the mountain—all mesh beautifully in theme and structure to create a sense of organic belonging.

NOVEMBER 1975 | Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Twice adapted for film, this magical children’s novel about immortality—an unusual topic at the time—remains a perennial favorite.

At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children’s fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents’ woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven’t aged a moment since.…Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn’t a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie’s decision not to share it. However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to “the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it passes in its turning”) help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth “would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin.”

SEPTEMBER 1984 | In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord

Born in Shanghai, Lord came to the U.S. at the age of 8. This groundbreaking book offers a young immigrant girl’s experiences with sensitivity and humor.

A young Chinese arrival, self-named Shirley Temple Wong, finds a secure, bicultural niche in 1945-46 Brooklyn—as, it’s suggested, did Chinese American novelist Lord (Spring Moon).…[O]nce Lord gets Shirley to the Brooklyn neighborhood of look-alike houses, and into P.S. 8 where not two children look alike, this becomes an endearing, warming account of immigrant woes and joys.…The turnaround starts with two black eyes from Mabel, “the tallest and the strongest and the scariest girl in all the fifth grade.” Shirley doesn’t tattle; Mabel befriends her—picking her for stickball, coaching her; and, from an inadvertent resemblance to Jackie Robinson (“ ’Cause she’s pigeontoed and stole home”), she develops a passion for the Dodgers and an identification with Robinson (“making a better America,” proclaims her teacher) that climaxes when she presents him with the keys to P.S. 8. But in a nice parallel with a Chinese tale, this identification also allows Shirley to wear “two gowns,” and to imagine her Chinese relatives clapping along with the P.S. 8 audience. It’s a deftly worked resolution, inspirational message and all.

OCTOBER 1994 | John Henry, adapted by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

This book was one of several collaborations between Lester and Pinkney that drew on African American folklore and legend; it received a Caldecott Honor.

Onto the page bounds the colossus John Henry, man of legend, man of myth (though the preface keeps things off balance on that point). John was the archetype for the “Just Do It” generation; he was all bustle and business, surrounded by an aura of triumph. Lester hits upon all of John’s special moments: his stupendous growth spurt; his humbling of Ferret-Faced Freddy; his smashing the great stone so fast that he creates a natty rainbow around his shoulders; and, of course, the climactic duel with the steam drill deep in the hills of West Virginia. John smoked the drill, but his big heart burst in the process. Lester…wisely makes it clear that you don’t have to be John Henry to get things done: You just need the will; there’s a bit of John to be tapped in us all. Pinkney’s watercolors walk a smart and lovely line between ephemerality and sheer natural energy. The rainbow whispers the lesson here: “Dying ain’t important. Everybody does that. What matters is how well you do your living.” Amen.

MAY 1999 | Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Myers was a prolific author and five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, among many other honors; this young adult novel won the first Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association.

In a riveting novel from Myers…a teenager who dreams of being a filmmaker writes the story of his trial for felony murder in the form of a movie script, with journal entries after each day’s action. Steve is accused of being an accomplice in the robbery and murder of a drug store owner. As he goes through his trial, returning each night to a prison where most nights he can hear other inmates being beaten and raped, he reviews the events leading to this point in his life. Although Steve is eventually acquitted, Myers leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves on his protagonist’s guilt or innocence. The format of this taut and moving drama forcefully regulates the pacing; breathless, edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes written entirely in dialogue alternate with thoughtful, introspective journal entries that offer a sense of Steve’s terror and confusion, and that deftly demonstrate Myers’s point: The road from innocence to trouble is comprised of small, almost invisible steps, each involving an experience in which a “positive moral decision” was not made.

OCTOBER 2008 | The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This novel was the opening of a dystopian trilogy (plus a prequel) that has sold more than 100 million copies and been adapted for hugely successful films; few books for young readers have had such an impact on popular culture.

Katniss Everdeen is a survivor. She has to be; she’s representing her District, number 12, in the 74th Hunger Games in the Capitol, the heart of Panem, a new land that rose from the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America. To punish citizens for an early rebellion, the rulers require each district to provide one girl and one boy, 24 in all, to fight like gladiators in a futuristic arena. The event is broadcast like reality TV, and the winner returns with wealth for his or her district. With clear inspiration from Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and the Greek tale of Theseus, Collins has created a brilliantly imagined dystopia, where the Capitol is rich and the rest of the country is kept in abject poverty, where the poor battle to the death for the amusement of the rich.…Impressive world-building, breathtaking action and clear philosophical concerns make this volume, the beginning of a planned trilogy, as good as The Giver and more exciting.

OCTOBER 2017 | Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

This uplifting and joyous picture book—the first collaboration between Barnes and James—won the Kirkus Prize as well as Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Honors.

Basquiat-inspired king insignias and a bit of Kehinde Wiley flair shape portraits of all the various ways men (and women too!) come into the black barbershop to restore their cool, leaving the chair with high self-esteem, self-pride, and confidence—if only for as long as their hairlines remain crisp. It’s sacred. The all-important line and the diverse styles take center stage here. The Big Daddy Kane–homage flat-top. The part. The light shape-up surrounded by cornrows and locs. The taper. The classic wavy dark Caesar. Barnes’ imaginative prose mirrors the hyperbole and swagger of the barbershop. No cut is just good. It will have you looking “presidential,” “majestic.” Like you own “a couple of acres of land on Saturn.” The swagger is on a million. The sauce is drippin’. James’ oil-based portraiture will send many readers reminiscing. This book oozes black cool and timely, much-needed black joy, using the unique and expansive experience of the barbershop to remind young boys that their inner lives have always mattered there. One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop. •