The news about Kirkus is very sad. I am friends with several of the children's editors--Lillian Gerhardt, Barbara Bader (who was also the owner and publisher for a time), Diane Roback, Joanna Rudge Long, Karen Breen and current editor Vicky Smith. And I treasure one issue, published interregnum and written by the adult staff, which was complete bedlam.
Kirkus had a reputation, memorialized by Trina Schart Hyman (no friendly flower herself) in a drawing she did for a Jean Fritz picture-book biography, for being mean. I remember Zena taking umbrage at a Kirkus review of (if I have this right) a children's book by the actress Barbara Bel Geddes: "as a writer, Miss Bel Geddes is a wonderful actress." But, jeez, if that's what you think of as mean, get out more. (And let's not forget Zena could be ruthless when she thought the book was asking for it.)
Speaking only of the juvenile reviews, I think what people had trouble with was the fact that Kirkus was no coddler. Children's books generally occupy a protected status because of their intended audience, and if you shouldn't be mean to children, then you shouldn't be mean to their books. "But kids like it" is a defense mounted in our field all the time, an argument that would be laughed right out of any critical conversation about books for adults. As well, preachiness is tolerated in children's books (because preaching to children comes second nature to adults) even while grownups won't stand for it in their own recreational reading. What Kirkus did was to treat books for children and adults the same in the same publication. Good for them. It was also, almost always, fun to read.