Leading writers have condemned a government decision to withdraw funding from a charity that provides free books to children to encourage reading.
Booktrust will lose its £13m support for schemes in England from April.
Author Philip Pullman called it an "unforgiveable disgrace", and ex-poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion said it was an "act of gross cultural vandalism".
The Department for Education said ministers had to take "tough decisions in difficult economic times".'National institution'
Children's writer Mr Pullman told the Observer: "Bookstart is one of the most imaginative and generous schemes ever conceived.
End Quote Sir Andrew Motion Former poet laureate
The savings made by its abolition will be negligible, the damage done will be immense”
"To put a gift of books into the hands of new-born children and their parents is to help open the door into the great treasury of reading, which is the inheritance of every one of us, and the only road to improvement and development and intellectual delight in every field of life."
Sir Andrew said Booktrust had become a "national institution and the envy of the world".
"The savings made by its abolition will be negligible, the damage done will be immense," he said.
Bookstart provides packs to parents when their babies are first born and then further books at later stages in their development.
The project started in 1992 and has received money from the government since 2004.
It is funded separately by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.'Joy of reading'
Co-founder Wendy Cooling was awarded the MBE in 2008 for services to children's literacy.
Bookstart chief executive Viv Bird said she was "immensely surprised and disappointed" to hear that funding would be withdrawn.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "The abolition of Bookstart will deprive children of an early opportunity to discover the joy of reading."
Ms Bird said the charity would be seeking other sources of support.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We believe homes should be places that inspire a love of books and reading.
"However, in these difficult economic times ministers have to take tough decisions on spending and the particular fund managed by Booktrust will end at the end of this financial year."