My daughter has always been something of an optimist. Over the years, I have periodically read her Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back, which most adults would agree has a dark ending. [If you don't know what I'm talking about, go and read it. It's fabulous. Here's the link to my review.] I would ask her afterward what she thought happened to the rabbit in the story. She would always say something like "He ran away." I would let this go without a word.
Recently, however, I read her the book for the first time in a while. We got to the end and I asked my question. She got a sly little smile on her face and whispered, pointing to the bear, "In his tummy. Or maybe he's sitting on it."
I was torn between sadness at this loss of childhood innocence and pleasure that she could understand something that was only implied by the text. I went ahead and showed her the parallel text between the page when the rabbit is denying having seen or stolen the hat (while clearly wearing it) and the bear's denial at the end ("I would not eat a rabbit"). I told her about the expression: "Methinks he doth protest too much." I think she understood, at least on some level.
She still thinks that the little fish gets away in the sequel, This Is Not My Hat. But that one, to my mind, is far more subtle. I think we mainly assume that the little fish was eaten because we've read the first book.
Anyway, I'm finding it fascinating to watch her comprehension and appreciation for books evolve over time. Thanks for sharing this journey with us!