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Argentine singer and poet Maria Elena Walsh dies

Maria Elena Walsh, an Argentine writer, poet and singer who entertained generations of children with whimsical songs and books, died Monday of heart failure. She was 80.

Walsh had been suffering from several chronic diseases before she died at a clinic in the capital, Ricardo Pereira, spokesman of the Argentine Society of Writers and Composers, told The Associated Press.

After being mourned at the society's headquarters, she will be buried in Buenos Aires' Chacarita cemetery.

The adventurous little turtle Manuelita and the goofy monkey Mono Liso were among the more well-known of Walsh's characters. Her songs, celebrated by folk singer Mercedes Sosa and Spanish crooner Joan Manuel Serrat, traveled across the Spanish-speaking world, inspiring children to sing along.

Born on Feb. 1, 1930, Walsh published her first poem when she was 15, and soon traveled to the U.S. and Europe, writing and performing.

She returned to Argentina in 1970 as a famous personality, and she was one of the few to openly challenge the 1976-83 military dictatorship, with songs such as "Oracion a la Justicia" (Prayer for Justice) and "Venceremos," a Spanish version of the U.S. civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."

By 1979, she wrote an open letter published in the newspaper Clarin that directly criticized the military regime's censorship, comparing Argentina to a preschool of cowering children with broken pencils. It was republished in 1993 in "Desventuras en el Pais-Jardin-de-Infantes" (Misadventures in the Preschool Country).

Walsh wrote more than 40 books in all, including works for adults, TV scripts and plays.

Even among themes apparently intended for children, Argentines found political messages, such as in the song "El Pais del Nomeacuerdo" (The Country of Idontremember), which was later used as the theme song for "The Official Story," the Argentine film that won the 1985 Academy Award for best foreign language film.

In a rare 2008 interview with the newspaper Pagina12, Walsh said she hoped to be remembered as someone who tried to bring joy to others.

"I never thought it was necessary to add a moral to the end of a song, nor tell the children to behave themselves. I was never interested in taking on the job of a mother," she said.