In Switzerland, kids don't watch much television. Their parents give them picture books instead. Now the Swiss government, to promote the country's cultural values abroad, has produced a traveling exhibition of books for kids. The show, at the Swiss Embassy until February 6, is at once rich as chocolate and predictable as a timepiece. "Swiss Picture-Books for Children -- A Panorama" covers more than three centuries of juvenile literature, from Die Tischzucht of 1645, a tract on proper mealtime behavior, to Etienne Delessert's recent ecological musings, wherein a mouse is pictured pouring chemically tainted milk for a hapless cat, while an anguished cow (drawn in the style of Picasso's Guernica) looks on. Assembled in panels in a room off the foyer, the show addresses two distinct audiences. Young children can commune with the whimsical characters of modern-day Swiss fairy tales -- a donkey who ejects gold coins from his mouth and rear end, for instance -- and munch a complimentary bar of Toblerone (the hands-down hit among a few five-year-olds the other day). Older kids and adults, meanwhile, can conjure with the often-solemn commentaries that accompany the pictures: "Adaptation to and a happy acceptance of given conditions are brought home to the child," for example. All this -- including the fact that the "Mickey Mouse of Switzerland," the birdlike Globi, is actually the corporate signature of a deparment store chain -- gets presented without irony, and with a sense of certitude.
SWISS PICTURE-BOOKS FOR CHILDREN -- At the Swiss Embassy, 2900 Cathedral Avenue NW, through February 6. Weekdays 9 to 1 and 2 to 5, Saturdays 9 to 3. For further information, call Margaret Markstaller at 462-1811.