Every secondary school should have a bookshelf of "boys' stories" to try to encourage them to read and close the literacy gap with girls, ministers say.
On average, boys lag behind girls in literacy tests
Education Secretary Alan Johnson said working class boys in particular were falling behind in English lessons.
They should be encouraged to read with action and spy stories and to learn by fast-paced, practical lessons, he said.
Mr Johnson also announced a drive to attract more men into teaching in primary schools, to act as role models.
In a speech to the Fabian Society in London, Mr Johnson said by the age of 14, boys were on average 14 percentage points behind girls in their national test results for English.
Those from poor homes were doing even less well.
"This is the worst possible start for their GCSE years, in which writing skills are so critical," he said.
"We need an educational strategy that builds a positive identity for working class boys, instilling in them pride and a love of learning."
'Turn off TV'
He said literacy was crucial to achievement in other subjects.
"Boys like books which depict them in powerful roles, often as sporting, spying or fighting heroes - not just Jane Austen, but a necessary dose of Anthony Horowitz as well," he said.
"To help get boys reading we need a boys' bookshelf in every secondary school library in the country, containing positive, modern, relevant role models for working class boys."
Parents, he said should turn the television off and read to their children.
And lessons could be tailored to engage boys: "We know what works and what doesn't," he said.
"Boys do better when their attention is grabbed quickly. They like dealing with practical tasks which make learning tangible.
"Boys also like clear rules and quick feedback. They want to get straight to the point."
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Sarah Teather said: "Alan Johnson is right that we have to stop this worrying trend of boys falling behind their female classmates.
"But I hope he's not suggesting that girls don't like adventure stories.
"There is a perception in some schools that doing well at school and being academic is 'girly'.
"Teachers struggle every day to help boys who are bright but embarrassed to overachieve - any initiative to help them do this is welcome."