More than 500 leading authors have signed a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown urging him to confront childhood illiteracy.
Reading is vital to a child's education and future, say authors
They called for children to be taught to read for an hour a day, adding that "no child should be left behind".
Crime writer Ian Rankin said literacy rates were falling, and that this "shouldn't be happening in the UK".
A government spokesman said there was a commitment to bring a "sharper focus" to the basics of reading.
The letter has been signed by 545 writers including Nick Hornby, Joanna Trollope, Kate Mosse, Jackie Collins and Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.
It cites official statistics which show that one in five 11-year-olds leaving primary school is unable to read to the minimum standard for that age group.
The letter says the writers have become "deeply concerned about the low levels of literacy across Britain", and that a "push" is needed to drive forward change.
The letter was delivered to Downing Street this morning by Trollope, Mosse, bestselling author Sophie Kinsella, Tony Parsons and Amanda Ross, a television producer who is credited with creating Richard and Judy's Book Club.
The letter reads: "As authors, we are deeply concerned at the low levels of childhood literacy across Britain. In a complex world, reading has become increasingly important - if not crucial.
"The reality is that the issue of childhood literacy transcends party politics and ideological divisions - and unites all of us who care about the future of our children.
"The prime minister has said that 'every child is special, every child precious and therefore no child should be left behind'. It's time to focus on the push to get all our kids reading in order to make this happen."
The call was made following Channel 4's Lost for Words television series of campaigning programmes on the issue.
The programme included a three-part documentary which followed the experiences of Monteagle Primary School in Dagenham, east London, which doubled the number of children reading to their age-appropriate levels after a drive by staff, parents and pupils.
The letter concludes: "Total literacy in our schools is achievable. Monteagle went a long way to proving that. There are towns in India that have achieved 100% literacy, we shouldn't settle for less."
A Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) spokesman said: "We have brought in phonics across the primary curriculum, and introduced one-to-one tuition and small group schemes like Every Child a Reader for children who need extra help with literacy at school.
"Our Children's Plan reaffirms our commitment to create an even sharper focus on the basics of maths and English. Recent international studies have shown that parents must also play their part in ensuring their children have a love of reading."