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Making House Calls in Rio, Part 1

house facade
Photo © Michael Sommers.

Whenever I travel to Rio de Janeiro I’m always seduced by the idea of living there. For this reason, I always love visiting homes of people who actually do live there.

Recently, I visited two fantastic Rio de Janeiro homes – both of which are located in leafy residential parts of the Zona Sul and both of which are open to the public. Mysteriously, and erroneously, both are also off the radar of most foreign tourists.

The first was a two-story Norman-style villa overlooking the Lagoa Rodrigo das Freitas. Built in 1931, it was one of the first houses built along the shores of this natural lagoon, which has since become one of Rio’s most coveted addresses. In 1952, it became the home of Eva Klabin, the Brazilian-born daughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, Hessel and Fanny Klabin, and her journalist husband, Paul Rappaport.

[pullquote] After the blinding light and scalding afternoon heat, stepping into the cool, wood paneled front room, overflowing with antiquities, was both refreshing and otherworldly. [/pullquote]

As the founder of Brazil’s first paper and cellulose manufacturer, Hessel Klabin was a rich man who enabled Eva and her younger sister, Ema, to grow up surrounded by the finer things in life. Beginning in the later 1940s, the sisters also began collecting finer things, taking frequent trips to Europe where they went on shopping sprees for paintings, sculptures, furnishings and decorative objects.

When her husband died in 1957, collecting became Eva’s prime passion and occupation. In subsequent years, her collection of classical art grew to over 2,000 objects, becoming one of the largest of its kind in Brazil. In order to house all her acquisitions, she remodeled and expanded the house overlooking the Lagoa where she lived and entertained in grand style, hosting glittering soirees for dignitaries, artists, and intellectuals from all over Brazil and the world. Following Eva’s wishes, upon her death, in 1991, her house was opened to the public as a museum under the auspices of the Eva Klabin Foundation.

You can tour the house Tuesday to Friday, between 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., which is what I decided to do on the way home from a hearty hike around the steep slopes of the adjacent Parque da Catacumba. After the blinding light and scalding afternoon heat, stepping into the cool, wood paneled front room, overflowing with antiquities, was both refreshing and otherworldly. I was greeted by a pale young woman who invited me to slip on a pair of Saran-wrap socks (so as not to scratch the beautifully polished parquet floors) before leading me from the Main Hall into the Renaissance Room (Eva named all the rooms, which have been preserved exactly as she lived in them).

On our way to the Chinese Room, the guide and I were joined by a trio of Carioca women, (over)dressed to the nines and with fabulously blown-out hair. As we continued our tour, they proceeded to gush extravagantly over Eva’s knickknacks with squeals of “How precious!”, “How sweet!”, and “I wonder how much that cost?” One of the Cariocas could barely refrain herself from flipping over the Limoges porcelain to check for a price tag. Another clearly wouldn’t have minded making off with a terracotta statue from the Tang Dynasty. As for me, I fell hard for the Ancient Greek lacrymatory, a delicate glass vessel used to catch (and conserve) women’s tears while their men were off waging wars. Talk about a cool – not to mention useful – accessory to have around the house.

Apart from the permanent collection, the Foundation often invites contemporary Carioca artists to stage interventions among Eva’s artifacts. It also hosts temporary exhibits that draw on the collection. My visit coincided with one such exhibit – “Viagens de Eva” (“Eva’s Voyages”) – that focused on the many luxury cruises the widowed Eva took to Europe – often in the company of her never-married sister, Ema – in search of pieces to add to her collection. Highlights included vintage postcards, ships’ menus, and Eva’s customized French-made hat boxes and trunks (along with the Dior and Patou couture gowns she packed in them).

I’m not usually a big fan of art collections whose scope is so vast (and dispersed) that it embraces five centuries and four continents. However, Eva’s collection was an exception in that what tied all the pieces together was her unique sensibility, and her life. She didn’t just accumulate these artifacts; she lived with them.

As such, there was a frisson of voyeurism attached to prowling around Eva’s spacious bedroom, taking in the gold-doused baroque bed in which she tossed and turned (beneath the Baccarat crystal chandelier) and inspecting the perfect rows of Charles Jourdain shoes in her closet. Less intimate, but no less compelling was our hushed visit to the English Room where, beneath the gaze of portraits by Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds, Eva loved to kick back with an Agatha Christie mystery while sipping whiskey (one could almost hear the clanking of the ice bucket being carried upstairs by the maid).

One of the best surprises of the tour occurred right at the end. As we were slipping out of our Saran-Wrap socks, one of the trio of Carioca women turned to me with a pensive look.

“You know, I grew up in an apartment building right next door,” she confessed. “Our balcony overlooked this house and I remember whenever Eva threw parties, I would watch all the fancy cars arrive and the people get out, all dressed up, and go into the house. I remember, one night, in particular, in 1973 when Henry Kissinger came to dinner. It was in all the newspapers.”

She paused.

“For years, I always wondered what it was like inside. Now, I finally know.”

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Maps - Brazil 4e - Brazil - Rio de Janeiro City
Rio de Janeiro City

Mail Harry to the Moon!

Mail Harry To The Moon

By Robie Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum subjects: Parents/Siblings/Babies, Character Development, Self-Discovery

Grade: P-1

2008 Irma Black Award finalist


Nobody told this older brother that having a new little brother would mean big changes, and he’s FED UP! It’s time to mail Harry to the moon so life can go back to the way it was before Harry: No more spit-up! No more grabbing! No more wailing in the night! But along the way, baby Harry might just help our hero see that being a big brother means more than just a big nuisance-it means adventure and friendship, too.


Known for their keen grasp of the ups and downs of childhood, bestselling author-illustrator team Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley offer kids and parents a lively look at the lighter side of getting along with the baby in the house.





By Stephenie Meyer

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum subjects: Paranormal, Contemporary

Grade: 7-12

2008 Garden State Book Award


Bella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Bella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Bella, the person Edward holds most dear.


Deeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful, Twilight captures the struggle between defying our instincts and satisfying our desires. This is a love story with bite.



Call Me Hope

Call Me Hope

By Gretchen Olson

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Curriculum subjects: Parents/Siblings/Babies, Abuse, Character Development

Grade: 3-7

2008 KY Blue Grass Winner


As 11-year-old Hope struggles to live under the pressures of her verbally abusive mother, she’s tempted to run away but instead chooses resilience. She creates a secret safe haven and an innovative point system (giving herself points for every bad thing her mother says to her); finds comfort and inspiration from Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl; and gains a support team. Ultimately, Hope is able to confront her mother about her hurtful words and help her begin to change.


This is an engaging, satisfying novel, about an important and not widely-understood issue, that will touch and inspire readers.


★ “Hope is a winsome character whose bravery and determination will resonate with middle-grade readers.” Booklist



Fred Stays with Me

Fred Stays With Me

By Nancy Coffelt, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum subjects: Divorce/Stepfamilies, Pets, Emotions

Grade: P-1

2008 Boston-Globe Horn Book Honor


Fred Stays with Me! is an award-winning story that follows a young girl who turns to the one constant in her life, her dog Fred, in the face of her parents’ divorce. 

In this poignant but not overly sentimental story, Coffelt’s accessible and kid-friendly language alongside Tusa’s charming artwork create a light, cheerful, and reassuring mood that will comfort any child who has two homes.


★ “Divorce gets a kid-empowering treatment in this congenial story.” – Horn Book (starred review)





The Year of the Dog

year of the dogThe Year of the Dog

By Grace Lin

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Curriculum subjects: Family Life: Daily Life and Play, Personal Development: Friendship, Personal Development: Self-Discovery

Grade: 3-7


[button link=””]Educator Guide[/button]


It’s the Chinese Year of the Dog, and as Pacy celebrates with her family, she finds out that this is the year she is supposed to “find herself.” Universal themes of friendship, family, and finding one’s passion in life make this novel appealing to readers of all backgrounds. This funny and profound book is a wonderful debut novel by a prolific picture book author and illustrator and has all the makings of a classic.



“Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today’s young readers.”
- Booklist, starred review

What Happened to Cass McBride?

What Happened to Cass McBride?

By Gail Giles

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Mystery

Curriculum subjects: Mystery, Empathy

Grade: 10-12

2009 Garden State Teen Book Award nominee


“The setting is claustrophobic, the characters are complex and the story will keep readers on the edge of their seats,” KLIATT raved of this vivid, fast-paced psychological thriller in a starred review. Kyle Kirby has planned a cruel and unusual revenge on Cass McBride, the most popular girl in school, for the death of his brother David. He digs a hole. Kidnaps Cass. Puts her in a box–underground. He buries her alive. But lying in the deepest dark, Cass finds a weapon: she uses the power of words to keep her nemesis talking–and herself breathing–during the most harrowing 48 hours of her life.



★ “[An] outstanding psychological thriller.” –VOYA (starred review)






The Postcard

The Postcard

By Tony Abbott

Genre: Mystery

Curriculum subjects: Adventure, Mysteries

Grade: 3-7

2009 Edgar Award nominee


“So how smart are you?” said a man’s voice abruptly. And loudly. “Because now… it’s starting.”
A creepy phone call. An old, yellowed postcard. A bizarre magazine story. And a strange group of funeral-goers who seem to follow their every move-all contain clues that will send Jason and Dia on an adventure to uncover extraordinary family secrets.
Award-winning author Tony Abbott weaves an intriguing and entertaining mystery of adventure, friendship and family.



[button link=”” color=”teal”]Download Educator Guide[/button]

Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi

By Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum subjects: Animals, Individuality, Self-Discovery, Pets

Grade: P-1


2009 APALA Book Award  |  A 2008 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book 


Wabi Sabi, a little cat in Kyoto, Japan, had never thought much about her name until friends visiting from another land asked her owner what it meant.


At last, the master

Says, “That’s hard to explain.” And

That is all she says.



This unsatisfying answer sets Wabi Sabi on a journey to uncover the meaning of her name, and on the way discovers what wabi sabi is: a Japanese philosophy of seeing beauty in simplicity, the ordinary, and the imperfect.


Using spare text and haiku, Mark Reibstein weaves an extraordinary story about finding real beauty in unexpected places. Caldecott Medal-winning artist Ed Young complements the lyrical text with breathtaking collages. Together, they illustrate the unique world view that is wabi sabi.


[button link=”” color=”teal”]Download Educator Guide[/button]



Shark vs. Train

Shark VS. Train

By Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum subjects: Sports/Teamwork/Competition, Individuality

Grade: P-1

2010 PA Young Readers Award


Shark VS. Train! WHO WILL WIN?!


If you think Superman vs. Batman would be an exciting matchup, wait until you see Shark vs. Train. In this hilarious and wacky picture book, Shark and Train egg each other on for one competition after another, including burping, bowling, Ping Pong, piano playing, pie eating, and many more! Who do YOU think will win, Shark or Train?


★ “This is a genius concept.”Publishers Weekly, starred review



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