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Toys That Make Music Are Hot This Year for Christmas Gifts

The Spider-Man balloon floats through Times Square during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York on Thursday
The Spider-Man balloon floats through Times Square during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York on Thursday

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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. This week we play music from Kanye West’s new album …

And answer a question about cell phones ...

But, first, a report about the most important day of the year for American store owners and what is on the top of people’s shopping lists.

Sing-a-ma-jigs are a popular toy this year
Sing-a-ma-jigs are a popular toy this year


November twenty-fifth was Thanksgiving in the United States. Families and friends gathered in homes to share a dinner of turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie. Millions of Americans share another tradition the day after Thanksgiving. They shop for Christmas presents. Katherine Cole tells about the day and what seems to be high on this year’s Christmas lists.

KATHERINE COLE: Police in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania named the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" in the nineteen sixties. A huge number of shoppers were crowding the streets and creating terrible traffic problems.

Later the term came to mean a good day for business owners because they would sell a lot that day.

They might even go from debt to profit. Store owners traditionally would record debt in their business books in red ink and profit in black ink. That is the "black" in Black Friday.

The National Retail Federation says almost one hundred forty million Americans are expected to shop this weekend. Many stores have advertised reduced prices and expanded shopping hours.

So what will shoppers be buying? Experts say small collectible objects are hot items for children this year. The Fisher-Price Sing-a-ma-jigs are an example. These soft, brightly colored characters make music. But you have to make the beat by squeezing them. They make funny noises and can sing with other Sing-a-ma-jigs. Each costs about fifteen dollars.

Paper Jamz are also expected to be popular. These are paper-thin musical instruments. Inside are battery-operated devices that are very sensitive to touch.

Paper Jamz come with three songs built in and four ways to play the instrument. You can use the "freestyle" play and create all your own songs. Or you can use "perfect play" and out will come a hit song exactly as recorded by the artist. You can even play it with vocals or without. Paperjamz are made by WowWee and cost about twenty dollars.

The National Retail Federation says adults are interested in different presents this year. The industry says useful gifts like pots and pans, toasters and tools were popular last year. This year people will be buying jewelry and personal care items.

Motorola's first cellular phone, the DynaTAC 8000X, and a newer model
Motorola's first cellular phone, the DynaTAC 8000X, and a newer model


DOUG JOHNSON: This week we answer a question from Vietnam. Phan Tran Trung Kien wants to know the history of mobile telephones in the United States.

If you walk down any busy street in America, you will probably see many people with their hands up to their ears. Others may be pushing buttons on a small electronic device in their hands. Talking or sending text messages on mobile phones has become an important part of American life.

Until nineteen seventy-three, most telephone calls were made either at home, at a business or in a vehicle. But on April third of that year, Martin Cooper of the Motorola Company made history. While walking down the street in New York City, he made the first mobile telephone call.

Mr. Cooper had helped invent the DynaTAC 8000X. It was a mobile, or cellular, telephone often called "the brick." It was much larger and heavier than the mobile phones we use today. After that first call, it took ten years before the phone was ready to be sold to the public. The first ones were very expensive. They cost almost four thousand dollars each. But even with that size and cost, many people stood in line to buy them.

The first mobile telephones used a system, or network, called 1G. It was the "first generation" of technology. This allowed one person to call and talk to another person, but that was all. By the early nineteen nineties, the second generation, or 2G network, came into use. It allowed talking and sending text messages. By that time, cell phones were much smaller and cost much less.

In two thousand one, the first 3G systems were being used. This new network permitted people using cell phones to make calls, send text messages and use the Internet. Users could even keep photographs and music on their phones, and send them to their friends.

Within the past two years, the 4G network has come into use. It permits cell phones to work much faster and with much more information. Modern cell phones can even act as small televisions. They can show movies and live sporting events.

As the networks have gotten more complex, the telephones have gotten smaller, lighter and less costly. Many electronics stores in the United States even give away the newest cell phones. But customers must agree to pay to use the network that sends their calls from one place to another.

It is interesting to imagine what the 5G and 6G network cell phones of the future will be able to do.

Kanye West rides a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Kanye West rides a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade


DOUG JOHNSON: Kanye West has had some trouble with his public image. But he has no problems with his music. Critics are praising his fifth album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." They are calling it "terrific" and "a masterpiece." One reviewer compared it to the Beatles album, "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band." Mario Ritter has more.

MARIO RITTER: "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" went on sale Monday. Several songs became hits on Billboard’s singles chart before the album’s release.

One of them is "Runaway," a nine-minute song for which Kanye West directed a thirty-five minute music video. It tells the story of an unlucky love affair between West and a beautiful bird woman who falls from space.


Kanye West has won fourteen Grammy Awards. Each of his first four albums sold more than one million copies. He is one of the most popular and powerful people in the music business. And that is made clear by the people he gathers for this album. Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, Alicia Keys and Elton John are just a few. Some of them perform this song, "Dark Fantasy."


On Tuesday, Kanye West surprised fans in New York with an announcement of a concert that night in Manhattan. It sold out in minutes. Later in the day people were selling the tickets on eBay for as high as one hundred thousand dollars.

The crowd was filled with famous people, including musician Questlove, film director Spike Lee and clothing designer Tory Burch.

We leave you with one of the songs they heard. Here is "Power."


DOUG JOHNSON: I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Jim Tedder and Caty Weaver, who also was our producer.

You can get transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our shows at You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English.

If you have a question about American life, write to We might answer your question on this show. So be sure to include your name and country.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.