Among Marilyn Monroe’s collection of books is the children’s book The Little Engine That Could.

Auction # 522 from Christie’s 1999 auction

The book was published in 1930–Marilyn would have been about 4 years old when it came out. At that time, Marilyn was living with her foster parents, Albert and Ida Bolender. According to many of her biographers, this was the happiest time in her childhood. The Bolenders wanted to adopt the young Norma Jeane, but

The book was in a used condition—in factchecking there is a large scribble on one of the pages that might have been made by Marilyn Monroe herself when she was a child.

Image from The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is about a train who has to make its way over a high mountain pass, and does so by repeating the phrase “I-think-I-can.” And in many ways the book’s themes of determination and believing in oneself can be seen in Marilyn’s career trajectory. She had many obstacles—movie producers who thought she wouldn’t amount to anything, people in her life who wanted her to quit acting. But Marilyn pushed on in spite of these setbacks, and eventually launched her own movie production studio.

Did the themes of the children’s book resonate with Marilyn for the rest of her life? Perhaps. What we do know is that the copy of The Little Engine that Could that sat on Marilyn Monroe’s bookshelf was a beloved treasure, probably from Marilyn Monroe’s own childhood.


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