María Elena Walsh, one of Argentina's best-loved children's authors, died on Monday in Buenos Aires after a long illness. She was 80.
On Tuesday, hundreds of mourners, including President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, paid their respects to the woman many consider to be one of the true literary legends of Argentina. Walsh was admired by many generations of Latin Americans for her music, books and theatrical plays.
"María Elena changed children's literature in all of Latin America. She changed the way we view our infancy and children without being condescending, but rather with respect and intelligence," said María Fernanda Maquieira, the publisher of all Walsh's writing. Her most popular work was the catchy nursery rhyme Manuelita la tortuga : "Manuelita used to live in Pehuajó, but one day, she went away. Nobody knew why, to Paris she went, a little bit by walking and another tiny bit on foot," are the lines that begin the song. In 1999, an animated film was adapted from the song.
Born in Ramos Mejia, in Buenos Aires province, Walsh was the product of an Argentinean father and Irish mother. She studied fine arts and at an early age became involved with theater and songwriting. At the age of 17, she published her first book of poems, which received accolades from the famous Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez and Argentinean novelist Jorge Luis Borges.
In the early 1950s, she formed a folk duo with Leda Valladares and traveled to Paris to perform. They returned in 1956 and Walsh soon began to mix with Argentina's popular showbiz crowd and began appearing on television, where she was widely admired.
In 1968, she hosted Juguemos en el mundo , a television show that enabled her to showcase her many songs, which would later be recorded by popular singers such as Argentina's Mercedes Sosa and other Latin American crooners. "María Elena was a part of many generations thanks to her books and songs," said popular Argentinean singer Susana Rinaldi.
In her later years, a debilitating illness confined her to a wheelchair. For many years and until the time of her death, she lived with the photographer Sara Facio. In one of her last interviews with the Buenos Aires daily Clarín , Walsh expressed her anger over what she saw as the limited the way young people spoke and discouraged writers from using only simple language for poor children to understand. "Life is very sad without a dictionary," she said.