Latest 'Chicken Soup' book is written for Catholics

WASHINGTON - The "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series can now add Catholics to the more than 200 groups in its targeted audience.

In mid-December, Simon & Schuster published "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith," making it the most recent addition to a series that has sold more than 112 million copies in 40 languages over the past 16 years.

The "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books are filled with personal stories (always 101) and each volume is aimed toward a specific audience: moms, dads, grandparents, teens, kids, sports enthusiasts, pet lovers, coffee lovers, people with a variety of ailments, scrapbookers and even fans of the "American Idol" television show. There are books specifically directed to members of the Jewish faith, Latter-day Saints, Christians and Christian women.

LeAnn Thieman, who co-authored "Living Catholic Faith," is no stranger to the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" phenomenon. She has co-authored nine other books in the series and is currently working on a new "Chicken Soup" book about miracles.

When Thieman, who is Catholic, was first approached about working on a "Chicken Soup" book for Catholics, she wasn't sure such a book was necessary since the series already had a book addressing Christians.

She changed her mind in 2005 during the media coverage of Pope John Paul II's death and funeral Mass, which she said revealed the large number of devout Catholics in the world. Around that same time, she received another call from the "Chicken Soup" publisher who said Catholics should have their own book. This time she agreed, saying, "You're not doing it without me."

The book's stories include anecdotes about the sacraments, praying the rosary, growing up Catholic, good role models and challenges in living the faith.

In a Jan. 8 phone interview with Catholic News Service from her home near Denver, Thieman said she tells fellow Catholics that they'll find "a bit of your family, your roots and yourself in this book."

She said the stories are ones Catholics will identify with and "should really rekindle their faith." What impressed her the most in the two-year process of gathering stories and editing them was "how people love this church and their Catholic faith. Even people who have problems (with the Catholic Church) in the end are drawn to it and love it," she said.

Thieman said the new book should "give us pride in our faith," something she acknowledged Catholics could use some help with today.

The appeal of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, she said, is that people relate to the stories. When Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, the series' co-founders, initially tried to promote "Chicken Soup for the Soul," they were rejected more than 30 times, according to Thieman, and were repeatedly told "no one wants to buy a personal story."

It turns out people do like personal stories.

Or as Thieman put it: "When people read stories they relate to, they feel understood." They find hope, she said, from reading that "someone's been where they are" and just learning how they handled or coped with a situation.

It also turns out that people have plenty of stories to tell. Thieman said she's received at least 4,000 submitted stories for "Chicken Soup" books she's edited. From that number, only 101 can make the final cut.

She knows what it's like to write these stories after getting her start with a story in the 1997 book, "Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul." In a biography in the current "Chicken Soup" book, Thieman is described as one of the series' most prolific writers.

In "Chicken Soup for the Mother and Son Soul" in 2006, Thieman wrote about the life-changing experience she had in 1975 as a nurse helping in the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States and other countries at the end of the Vietnam War.

Thieman, who co-authored a book on the experience, "This Must Be My Brother," in 1995, has since become a nationally known speaker relating her experiences in helping transport babies out of a war zone to the challenges people face daily in "balancing life in their own war zones," as she puts it.

In her motivational speeches, she advises audience members to balance their lives spiritually, mentally and physically and be confident they can make a difference in the world.

And for Thieman, it's not all about dosing out inspiration. She said she receives her fair share of inspiration from those she meets at talks around the country.

"I'm humbled that God picked me to do this," she said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009